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The 133ª Divisione Corazzata "Littorio" or 133rd "Littorio" Armoured Division was an Italian Army armoured division during World War II. The division was formed in 1939 from the cadre belonging to the Littorio Infantry Division that fought in the Spanish Civil War. It was a reserve unit during the Battle of France. The division then took part in the successful Invasion of Yugoslavia. In the spring of 1942, the Littorio, under General Gervasio Bitossi, was sent to North Africa were it took part in the Battle of Mersa Matruh and Second Battle of El Alamein where it was destroyed .

Mersa Matruh

On the night of 28/29 June 1942, the Littorio Division took up positions near Wadi Nagamish, with the 12th Bersaglieri Regiment and tanks opening fire on the British Commonwealth forces that attempted to escape from Mersa Matruh under the cover of darkness.[1]According to Les Davies:

The next day we reformed and got ready, it was Sunday. Shells were coming over by the dozen and Jerry was closing in on us, so as soon as it was dark we made our mad dash to freedom and at a dear cost. Hell was let loose, he knew we were coming out. We broke the way through. Trucks were burning, men were killed and wounded and screaming for help, we could not stop as tracer bullets were flying through us and tanks were knocking hell out our trucks.[2]

El Alamein

During the First Battle of El Alamein, General Bitossis Littorio armoured division was held in reserve near the Afrika Korps's command post. The Littorio had lost several tanks in the advance to El Alamein, but Rommel felt confident enough to reinforce the division's 90mm anti-aircraft detachment [3], with two batteries of German 88mm anti-aircraft guns.[4]

On 25 October, the Axis forces launched a series of counterattacks using the 15th Panzer Division and the Littorio. The Panzerarmee was probing for a weakness, but found none. On the night of 25/26 October, the British 51st Highland Division launched three attacks, but these were badly executed, resulting in the loss of over 500 Allied troops. By this time the Trento Division had lost half its infantry and most of its artillery, the 164th Light Afrika Division had lost two battalions and although the 15th Panzer and Littorio Divisions had held off the Allied armour, this had proved costly and most units were under strength.

Rommel was convinced by this time that the main Allied attack was developing in the north and was determined to retake Point 29 that the Australian 2nd/48th Battalion[5]had captured. He ordered a counterattack against Point 29, using the 15th Panzer and tanks and Bersaglieri[6]from the Littorio. According to Rommel, this attack was successful, with the 23rd Bersaglieri Battalion (under Major Titta Cavalleri) recapturing part of what he calls Hill 28:

Attacks were now launched on Hill 28 by elements of the 15th Panzer Division, the Littorio and a Bersaglieri Battalion, supported by the concentrated fire of all the local artillery and A.A ... In the evening part of the Bersaglieri Battalion succeeded in occupying the eastern and western edges of the hill.[7]

The bulk of the Australian 2nd/17th Battalion, which had defended the position, was forced to pull back.

During the day, Rommel ordered the 21st Panzer and part of the Ariete to move north and reinforce the 15th Panzer Division and the Littorio. The 90th Light Division at El Daba and the Trieste Division at Fuka were ordered forward to replace them. The 21st Panzer and the Ariete made slow progress, and were caught out in the open and attacked from the air.

On 28 October, part of the British 133rd Brigade, which had been ordered to recover lost positions, was overrun by Panzers and tanks and Bersaglieri from the Littorio, and several hundred British soldiers were captured.

On the night of 1/2 November, the Littorio in the form of a Bersaglieri battalion[8][9], anti-tank, field artillery and heavy anti-aircraft gunners[10] [11], defeated the British 9th Armoured Brigade's attempts to capture Aqqaqir Ridge from Rahman Track.

On 4 November, the Littorio and Ariete Armoured Divisions were destroyed along with the Trieste Motorized Division, which were attacked by the British 1st and 10th Armoured Divisions. 

Aftermath

References

  1. "Later that day, the 90th Light Division and the Littorio Division completed the encirclement of Mersa Matruh ... During the night of 28 June, groups of the Indian 10th Division tried a breakout of the Mersa Matruh positions at the head of Wadi Nagamish, but they were driven back by the Littorio Armored Division." World War Two in Europe, David T. Zabecki, pg. 1578, Taylor & Francis, 1999
  2. Letter Home: From Mersa Matruh
  3. "The new (Littorio) division had a smaller compliment of 6,500 officers and men, but it had additional firepower: twelve more 105mm artillery pieces, eight brand new 90mm AA guns - the Italian equivalent of the German 88mm and just as deadly in an anti-tank role, twenty-six more 20mm AA guns, and twenty-four new Semoventi Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts: Mussolini's Elite Armoured Divisions in North Africa, Ian W. Walker, Crowood, 2012
  4. "Divisione 'Littorio', which had been mauled by the hastily retreating 1st Armoured Division and had lost heavily in tanks, was to be bolstered by two units of 88mm guns befoe tackling 1st Armoured again." El Alamein: The Battle that Turned the Tide of the Second World War, Bryn Hammond, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012
  5. "The battalion was badly depleted and exhausted after this night of fighting but maintained a firm foothold on the ground it had captured. 2/17th Infantry Battalion took over the positions vacated by the 2/48th Battalion around Point 29 and engineers laid more Hawkin mines to extend the protective minefield around the new positions." Pendulum Of War, Niall Barr, pg. 346, Random House, 2010
  6. "Attacks were now launched on Hill 28 by elements of the 15th Panzer Division, the Littorio and a Bersaglieri Battalion ... In the evening part of the Bersaglieri Battalion succeeded in occupying the eastern and western edges of the hill." World War II: The Autobiography, Jon E. Lewis, Hachette, 2009
  7. The Taste of Courage: The Tide Turns, Desmond Flower, James Reeves, pg. 85, Berkley Pub., 1971
  8. "Already at midnight on 2 November, the air bombardment suggested a new offensive was about to start and the headquarters of Panzer Army Africa issued its own order: all the positions were to be held no matter what, not an inch of terrain was to be surrendered without a hard fight ... one battalion of 90th Light Division in the north, along with another one of 15th Panzer Division in the south, were soon overrun and at 4.45am it was reported that only one Italian Bersaglieri Infantry Battalion was still holding the line ... A little while later, the tanks of 9th Armoured Brigade arrived, immediately attacking the enemy positions along the Rahman track ... with its three battalions deployed as follows from north to south: 3rd Hussars, Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry and Warwickshire Yeomanry, supported by the anti-tank guns of 14th Sherwood Foresters. Battle Story: El Alamein 1942, Pier Paolo Battistelli, The History Press, 2011
  9. "Major Eveleigh's own tank was hit and set ablaze at point blank range by a troop of Italian 47mm guns. He bailed out with his turret crew, until the armour plate became too hot to touch, desperately struggled to free the jammed hatches of his driver and co-driver, to no avail. Aware that the Italian gunners were shooting at his gunner and operator with small arms, he emptied his revolver at them. At this point Lieutenant Charles Dorman, one of his troop leaders, seeing what was happening, attacked the Italians from a flank and wiped them out. The rest of the regiment had now come up and become heavily engaged in a series of personal close-quarter duels with the numerous gun positions ... During this phase of the action the regiment accounted for fifteen anti-tank guns, four field guns and five tanks, but by 0710 it had itself been reduced to seven tanks while only four of its officers remained alive and unwounded." (Iron Fist: Classic Armoured Warfare, Bryan Perrett, Hachette, 2012
  10. "Gli artiglieri della Littorio dopo nove giorni di strenua lotta difesero ancora stoicamente i pezzi e con il loro sacrificio scrissero una delle più belle pagine di gloria dell'arma." Ferrea Mole Ferreo Cuore, Dino Campini, Soldiershop Publishing, 2015
  11. "The Italian gunners proved especially effective as daylight broke and they opened fire from ranges as little as 20 yards. The consequences were predictable and destructive. In a matter of hours the 9th Armoured Brigade lost 70 of of it's compliment of 94 tanks." Battlefield Documentary Alamein, Dave Flitton, 2001

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